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Unravelling the Chinese Italian Instructions Posted by on Nov 22, 2013 in Grammar, Humour

I guess we’ve all stared in frustrated confusion or amusement at the badly translated instructions that arrive with our latest ‘made in China’ acquisition.

A few days ago Geoff bought a tactical torch for his airsoft rifle from the Chinese stall on the market here in Pontremoli. It’s well made, well presented, and with a lot of useful attachments. However, when we tried to read the instructions printed inside the box, we had a few problems. They are meant to be written in Italian, but in reality they must have been translated from Chinese into Italian via English using some kind of translation software. The end result is comical and in places incomprehensible. Here’s an extract copied from the box, let’s see if we can rearrange them into something useful (original text in red):

Attenzione = Warning

1. Non guardare direttamente la luce. OK, this first sentence is correct: it uses the infinitive of the verb to give impersonal instructions, there aren’t any spelling or grammatical mistakes, the vocabulary is fine = do not look directly at the light.

2. Non interferire con la testa di torcia o separare il bulbo e il. This is where things start to get interesting, let’s have a look:

interferire = to interfere, is too generic, it would be better to use manomettere = to tamper with

la testa di torcia this should be la testa della torcia = the head of the torch

il bulbo = the bulb. In Italian we only use il bulbo on its own to refer to the bulb of a plant. For a light bulb we use la lampadina or il bulbo della lampadina

finally we have a have a full stop after that mysterious final “il”: what is this “il” I really want to know? Let’s have a guess: what they probably meant t say was “remove the bulb” = rimuovere la lampadina

So let’s reconstruct the sentence into correct Italian: Non manomettere la testa della torcia o rimuovere la lampadina = do not tamper with the head of the torch or remove the bulb

3. Pulire torcia elettrica con l’utilizzo afteer morbido tessuto. In caso di rugosità causando erosione del movimento della torcia, cercare di chiarire ed all’aria. The first part is more or less understandable, but we need a definite article before torcia, l’utilizzo (the usage) is redundant, and morbido and tessuto are back to front. Then we have a strange Dutch sounding word: afteer … what’s that all about?

The second part of the sentence is totally incomprehensible: the gerund causando (causing) would work in English but not in Italian, and erosione is a geological term not applicable in this context, furthermore, how roughness can cause the ‘erosion of the movement’ is a mystery to me. Ma il bello viene ora (but here comes the best bit): cercare di chiarire ed all’aria = try to clarify and in the air! I’ve puzzled long and hard over this one but I still can’t understand what they are trying to say. Any suggestion anyone?

Oh well, here’s my correction of the understandable part of the sentence: Pulire la torcia elettrica con un tessuto morbido = clean the electric torch with a piece of soft fabric.

4. Grasso al silicone può essere applicato all’interfaccia = Silicone grease can be applied to the interface. Grammatically this sentence is correct, (complimenti) but what exactly is the interface (l’interfaccia) of a torch? Help!

5. Togliere la batteria se non viene utilizzato per un lungo periodo di tempo e mantenere in un luogo asciutto diretta place. Avoid luce solare. I love this final sentence! It kind of makes sense, but I have the impression that they were getting a bit bored and decided to throw all the words, both Italian and English, into a hat and pull them out at random!

Here’s my guess at what they wanted to say: Togliere la batteria dalla torcia se non viene utilizzata per un lungo periodo di tempo e conservare in un luogo asciutto. Evitare l’esposizione diretta  alla luce solare

Would anyone care to share some amusing gobbledygook instructions with us? Feel free to leave a comment.

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  1. Steve:

    My guess for number three is that they were trying to say “Pulire la torcia elettrica con un tessuto morbido dopo l’utilizzo.” The word “after” was misspelled and the translation software, not recognizing it, left it unchanged. My guess for the remainder is that in English they meant: “In case of roughness causing degraded movement of the torch, try to clear and air it.” In English we might say degraded movement to mean worsened movement, but in geology to degrade means to erode, so the translation software picked the wrong meaning of degrade in English when translating. The translation of “try to clear and air it” comes from google translate. Perhaps they mean to remove any dirt or grit by waving it in the air?

    • Serena:

      @Steve Salve Steve, ottimo lavoro d’interpretazione! Grazie mille.

      Saluti da Serena

  2. June:

    Had absolutely no trouble reading this Chinese Italian. It is exactly like my students’ paragraphs written during their first semester of Italian. I keep telling them, “Do not use a translation site! Use a proper English-Italian dictionary!” Aiuto!

    • Serena:

      @June Salve June! Ti capisco perfettamente!

      Saluti da Serena

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